TribLIVE

| Sports

 
Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Center of attention: McCutchen could be long remembered

TribLIVE Sports Videos

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Sunday, March 11, 2012
 

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Quick: Think of the greatest outfielders in Pirates history.

Who came to mind• Roberto Clemente and Barry Bonds, probably.

Good choices. That covers right field and left field. So who's in center?

"I don't know. I guess we'll find out," Andrew McCutchen said, smiling because he was quick to pick up on where this question was heading. "There have been some great ones here. We had (Andy) Van Slyke, (Omar) Moreno. Those are the main two I hear a lot of talk about, as far as guys from the past."

McCutchen paused and smiled again.

"We'll see."

After just 420 games in the majors, it might be premature to put McCutchen, 25, in the same class as Bill Virdon and Matty Alou or Hall of Famers Lloyd Waner and Max Carey. But McCutchen has done nothing in his first 2 12 seasons to make anyone think he won't someday be among their company.

Just two seasons after finishing fourth in Rookie of the Year voting, McCutchen last year earned his first All-Star berth. His production has been above average and consistent yet also shows signs of growth.

To quantify a player's value, sabermetricians use Wins Above Replacement Player, which compares a player's performance to that of a fictitious Triple-A player who would take his place if he were injured. Most veteran major league starters earn 3 to 5 WARP over the season.

As a rookie, McCutchen's WARP was 1.7, as computed by Baseball Prospectus. In 2010, his WARP was 3.1. Last season, when McCutchen's batting average dipped by 27 points but his home run total nearly doubled, his WARP grew to 5.2.

All signs point to that trend continuing as McCutchen moves into his prime of his career. Not coincidentally, that's the same stretch the Pirates locked up by signing McCutchen to a $51.5 million contract extension last week.

"It's a win-win," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We're very confident that Andrew understands the commitment that's been made to him, and we understand the commitment he's made to us."

It probably won't take long before Pirates fans rate McCutchen the equal of Van Slyke, Moreno and other great center fielders in the franchise's 130-year history. While McCutchen would welcome that, deep in his heart he would love to be the next Ken Griffey Jr. -- one of the greatest center fielders of baseball's modern era.

"Griffey was the guy I watched, growing up as a kid," McCutchen said. "Some guys wanted to be like Mike. I definitely wanted to be like Griffey."

In 2006, before he was even in Double-A, McCutchen met Griffey for the first time. Rusty Kuntz, then a Pirates coach, introduced them during batting practice. Recalling the moment, McCutchen laughed and admitted he was star-struck.

Griffey's logo is on McCutchen's workout shirt and cleats. Two years ago, Griffey called McCutchen and asked if he would endorse his line of clothing and shoes produced by Nike.

"That was pretty neat," McCutchen said, shaking his head and laughing again. "He's a guy I watched growing up, and now I know him personally. It's crazy how things happen."

Photo Galleries

Andrew McCutchen

Andrew McCutchen

Images of Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen from 2012 spring training in Bradenton, Florida.

2012 Pirates Spring Training

2012 Pirates Spring Training

Photos from Pirates spring training in Bradenton, Florida.

Additional Information:

Strong up the middle

Strong up the middle

Several standout center fielders have played in Pittsburgh for the Pirates, Crawfords and Grays:

• Matty Alou: Led NL with .342 average in 1966

• James 'Cool Papa' Bell: Fastest man in Negro Leagues

• Max Carey: 10-time NL stolen-base leader

• Oscar Charleston: Player-manager of 1932 Crawfords

• Kiki Cuyler: 2nd in MVP voting in 1925

• Omar Moreno: 77 stolen bases in 1979

• Al Oliver: Seven-time All-Star

• Andy Van Slyke: Five straight Gold Gloves (1988-92)

• Bill Virdon: Led NL in triples and won Gold Glove in 1962

• Lloyd Waner: 'Little Poison' hit .319 over 17 years

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.

 

 

 


Show commenting policy

Most-Read Pirates

  1. Pirates third baseman Ramirez’s last ride is about winning a ring
  2. Gameday: Pirates at Twins, July 28, 2015
  3. Pirates notebook: No sign of improvement for RHP Sadler
  4. Cole collects MLB-best 14th win as Pirates take series against Nationals
  5. Starting 9: Pirates help and the illusion of help
  6. Making splash at MLB trade deadline not always in buyers’ best interest
  7. Pirates minor league report: Moore a breakout star in Morgantown
  8. Pirates notebook: Cervelli cherishes All-Star gift from teammate Burnett
  9. Pirates notebook: Ramirez thrown into spotlight upon joining Pirates
  10. Pitt football notebook: Boyd returns from monthlong suspension
  11. Nationals pound Burnett, Pirates